February 03, 2017 by Christopher Markowitz
After a heartbreaking 54-47 road loss to James Madison University on Jan. 27, the Drexel University women’s basketball team took their frustrations out on Northeastern University in a 74-51 home win Jan. 29.
Against Northeastern, for the first time all season, the Dragons had a different starting lineup. With junior Kelsi Lidge injured, freshman Aubree Brown made her first career start.
Brown was instrumental in the victory, dishing out six assists and finishing with a team-high four steals. Her performance on the defensive end was significant because Lidge has been an anchor on that side of the court this season for the Dragons.
Junior forward Sarah Curran led the Dragons on the offensive end by scoring 24 points, which was her highest scoring total of the season thus far in Colonial Athletic Association games. It was the first time in the calendar year that Curran eclipsed the 20-point mark in a game.
While Curran ended up leading the Dragons in points, it was freshman Bailey Greenberg and senior Jessica Pellechio who sparked Drexel’s offense in the first quarter. Greenberg made Drexel’s first two baskets, the first on a layup and the second on a jumper in the paint. Then, on the following possession, Pellechio hit a three-pointer from the corner to give Drexel an early 7-2 at the 7:19 mark in the first quarter.
Pellechio hit another three at the 5:15 mark in the first, and Greenberg made another layup at the 4:01 clip. By then, Drexel was out to a 16-3 lead over the Huskies. Curran piled onto her team’s lead with a three-pointer towards the end of the quarter.
While the Drexel offense was impressive early on, with contributions from Curran, Greenberg and Pellechio, it was the Dragons’ defense that allowed them to create distance from Northeastern. After allowing Northeastern’s Francesca Sally to make a layup during the game’s opening possession, the Dragons did not give up another field goal until there were 30 seconds remaining in the first quarter.
Sarah Curran exploded on offense in the second quarter, scoring 10 of Drexel’s 18 points in that period. However, Drexel’s defense slowed a little bit and allowed Northeastern to match them with 18 points in the second quarter.
Despite their defensive woes in the second period, the Dragons went into halftime holding on to a comfortable 37-23 lead.
In the second half, Pellechio got things started again on the offensive side for Drexel. Pellechio buried a three-pointer on the opening possession of the third quarter. After an empty trip on offense by Northeastern, senior Meghan Creighton knocked down a triple of her own to give Drexel a 43-23 lead.
Then, after another defensive stop by the Dragons, Brown cashed in on a mid-range jump shot at the 8:37 mark in the third quarter. Moments later, Curran converted on a layup, which gave the Dragons a 47-23 lead on a 10-0 run to begin the second half.
From that point on, it was cruise control for the Dragons, whose lead did not dip below 20 for the remainder of the game.
By game’s end, Curran had 24, Pellechio had 18 and Greenberg had 10, which marked the twelfth time this season that Drexel had at least three double digits scorers. In those twelve games, the Dragons have a perfect 12-0 record.
Creighton finished with nine assists, which was a season-high for her.
The victory improved Drexel’s record to 15-5 for the season and 6-3 in the CAA. It was a much needed victory because it allowed Drexel to remained tied with University of Delaware (6-3) for third place in the conference and kept the Dragons within striking distance of JMU (7-2) and Elon University (8-1).
Despite the win against Northeastern, Drexel was unable to take down JMU on the road Jan. 27 in a game that would have given the Dragons sole possession of second place.
JMU has dominated the matchup over the past few years, especially at home, with the Dragons last win against the Dukes coming March 16, 2013 in the semifinals of the CAA Tournament.
Despite having a depleted roster in comparison to their past three seasons, JMU has been competitive this season in large part because of senior guard Precious Hall. Average 23.9 points per game, Hall not only leads the CAA in scoring, but she is also fourth in the entire nation in that category.
Coach Dillon said her team’s goal on the defensive end was to hold Hall and her teammates to a total of 56 points for the game. She believed that if the Dragons could do that, they’d have a shot at winning the game.
Drexel was on pace to accomplish that in the first half, limiting JMU to 24 points on 37.4 percent shooting from the field. However, struggles on the offensive end were Drexel’s achilles heel in the half. As a team, the Dragons scored just 14 points on a putrid 17.9 percent shooting from the field in the game’s opening two quarters.
Surprisingly, the Dragons appeared to be intimidated in the first half. Curran, Creighton and Pellechio, the team’s senior captains and top scorers, were out of sync. The trio combined to score just five points on two-of-14 shooting and committed a total of five turnovers in the first half.
If the Dragons were going to have any shot of climbing back in the second quarter, they needed their seniors to step up. Step up, they did.
At the 6:38 mark in the third quarter, Creighton connected for a three-pointer that brought the Dragons within seven points of the Dukes. The three was Creighton’s first made field goal of the game. Then, at the 4:43 point in the third, Creighton struck again from deep, knocking in a three-pointer that cut JMU’s lead over Drexel to 31-26.
On Drexel’s following possession, Greenberg, who made a three point basket earlier in the third, got fouled on her way up to the basket, but managed to convert on the layup to set up an old fashioned three point attempt. After Greenberg sank her free throw attempt, the Dragons’ were trailing JMU 31-29. The Dukes ended the period on a 5-2 run and took a 36-31 lead into the game’s final quarter.
The fourth quarter did not begin the way the Dragons had hoped, as JMU’s Logan Reynolds made a three pointer to extend the Dukes’ lead to eight. After Greenberg went one for two from the free throw line on Drexel’s next possession, JMU scored a minute later to extend its lead to nine.
Curran made a mid-range jumper at the 6:24 mark, but Hall responded with a layup to maintain JMU’s nine-point advantage.
At the 5:31 mark, sophomore Tereza Kracikova drove to the basket and finished in traffic to once again bring the Dragons within seven. On the ensuing JMU possession, the Dragons forced Hall to commit a turnover, and Curran capitalized on the offensive end by hitting a jumper in the paint off of an assist by Creighton, making the score 43-38 in favor of the Dukes.
The Dragons held JMU scoreless on its next offensive possession, which was followed by a Greenberg layup at the 4:10 mark to cut the Dukes’ lead to three.
After Kamiah Smalls scored a layup for JMU, Kracikova answered at the 3:36 mark with a basket of her own to keep the Dragons within three.
Then, at the 2:29 mark, Curran dropped in a jumper to make the score 45-44. It looked as if JMU was ready to complete the collapse.
However, just as doubt began to creep in for the Dukes, their superstar responded. After Curran’s jumper, Hall took a contested three-point shot from several feet behind the line and made it, all net, to push JMU’s lead back up to four.
After a couple of empty possessions both both teams, Curran knocked in a three-pointer, with ice in her veins, with just a minute and twelve seconds left in the game. Curran’s three once again got the Dragons within one point of the Dukes.
On the next JMU possession, Drexel forced Hall to turn the ball over again with just 52 seconds left. Coach Dillon immediately called a timeout to draw up a play.
Whatever she drew up worked, as Brown got open for a three-point attempt from the top-right of the arc with 37 seconds to go. Brown hesitated, perhaps in disbelief of how open she was, and then hoisted up a three that would have given the Dragons the lead.
Brown’s shot missed, but it hit the side of the rim and took a weird hop. Kracikova dove on the loose ball before it was wrapped up by a JMU player, which resulted in a jump ball. With the possession arrow in favor of Drexel, coach Dillon called a timeout to set up another shot.
This time, it was Lidge who got a good look at the basket. Lidge drove the lane and tossed up a runner in the the paint, but her shot hit the front rim and bounced away from the basket. Amber Porter of JMU came down with the rebound and was fouled immediately by Lidge. After Porter made both of her free throws, extending JMU’s lead to 50-47, coach Dillon called a timeout to set up a three point play to tie the game.
Creighton ended up taking a deep three-pointer, but she couldn’t get it to go. JMU got the rebound and closed out the game by making free throws. Considering how many chances they had at the end to pull out the victory, it was a tough loss for the Dragons.
Drexel will have a chance to keep pace with JMU this week as the Dragons’ go on the road to play the College of Charleston on Feb. 3.